Willpower is finite and can be depleted. This is a #truth for EVERYONE. We only have so much of it everyday to use for our various tasks. This includes but is not limited to; not caving into cravings for sugar, fatty foods, or processed carbohydrates, making sure you get your exercise in after a long day at work when you’re tired, pushing through long hours to make a deadline, &/or not slapping that annoying co-worker that you can’t stand.
All of this already sounds exhausting doesn’t it? I’m exhausted after just writing about it ;). No wonder we’re looking for ways to indulge our impulses and cravings later in the day and evening. We just want some relief for our stress and to feel better.
But wait….Here’s the GOOD NEWS! We can make our willpower stronger over time because it’s a lot like a muscle. But, it does get tired and overworked and becomes fatigued by placing too many tasks, demands, &/or incorporating too many new habits into the daily grind all at once.
For example, focusing on changing too many variables for diet and exercise all at once sets us up for FAILURE.
This would look like the familiar ALL or NOTHING approach to diet and exercise: On Monday, I’m going to start drinking 2 liters of water everyday, exercise for 1 hour 5x/week, & not eat any junk food or sugar……on top of all of your other daily tasks and stresses you have to deal with….when you aren’t even doing any of those new things right now. Good Luck…that’s a lot for our brains to take on all at once and focus on!
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How Do We Strengthen Our Willpower?
1. Instead of Focusing On What You DON’T Want…FOCUS On What You DO Want.
It takes more willpower to fight what we don’t want versus focusing on the positive things we want more of. Our brains are funny like that. Try focusing on not eating a candy bar or having ice cream….it’s really hard and starts whittling our willpower away little by little until finally we cave.
However, how about thinking about more of the foods you want to incorporate. For example, instead of repeatedly saying, “I’m not going to eat junk food or candy today after work.” How about, “I’m going to eat veggies at every meal today. What are my favorite veggies I can add in today?” You stopped thinking about junk food didn’t you? AMAZING how that works…..I like to call this #affirmativehabits
2. Start With ONE Habit At a Time and Keep Building.
Find one habit that you are struggling with, it could be to drink more water, eat veggies at every meal, exercise for 20 min/day, go for a walk, and only FOCUS on that ONE thing until it becomes automatic for you. THEN, move on to the next thing. Once a habit or new routine becomes automatic for you, the less taxing it is on your willpower, and now you will have more room for tackling your new habit.
3. Set Up Your Environment For SUCCESS.
In Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit,” he points out the different parts of the development of a habit &/or routine, with one important part being the environmental cues that have us act on something. Sometimes just changing the environmental cue is all we need to start behaving in a more desirable way.
For example, setting timers for our coffee makers and laying out our workout clothes the night before, so that when we wake up in the morning, it’s easy to just slip them on and get to the gym. Or, removing tempting foods from the home, taking different routes in the office so you don’t have to walk by the co-worker’s desk that always has treats on it, and making some healthy snacks to have handy in the fridge when you feel a craving coming on. It takes a little bit of planning, but it works!
There is personal power in knowing when your willpower is the strongest and weakest!
I polled my FB followers last summer, as you can see below, about when they felt their willpower was the weakest during the course of a day.
Help me out by going to this post and casting your vote! I love collecting data and getting your input 😉
I found out what I kind of expected and matches most of the scientific research out there. Almost everyone said they felt like their willpower was weakest in the evening or mid-afternoon, which makes sense because you’ve been steadily using your willpower all day long at this point.
What Can We Do With All of This Info?
1. Upgrade Your Environment.
If we know that we are more likely to indulge in sweets, wine, crackers or cookies in the evening after a hard day, why are we keeping these things around? I’m guilty of this, too! It’s like we want to test ourselves to see if we’re stronger. Even though we know that almost everyone’s willpower is weakest in the evening through research, so why so we continue to do this to ourselves? We could prune our cabinets of junk, alcohol, and tempting treats and replace them with less physique damaging foods. You’ll only binge on baby carrots for so long before you find something else to do 😉
2. Take RESPONSIBILITY for OUR RESULTS.
Don’t blame your husbands and kids for having tempting food and treats in the house, if you are the one buying it. If we want to achieve our goals, we have to start implementing the knowledge we have by TAKING ACTION on it, no matter how small the action step is.
If you know you are likely to binge on ice cream at night, why keep it in the fridge? Don’t BUY it. I’ve lost this battle too many times, thinking, I can just have a little bit or keep it in the house for my boyfriend, Augie…..yeah…until I’ve had a really stressful day….then all bets are off. However, if it is not around, I’ll find another way to get through my cravings.
3. Plan for Mess Ups, but Practice Self-Compassion.
Failure and mistakes are inevitable. We are going to miss a workout 1 day or eat something not on our plan. It’s called LIFE. Acknowledge the mistake, see how it could be avoided with better planning or an environment change in the future, and just keep going. CONSISTENT ACTION always pays off in the end! Keep your head up and keep strengthening that willpower muscle!
Thanks for stopping by,
P.S. If you like what you’re reading, I’d love to have you give Habits Based Eating a try for FREE! Check out The Mindless Eating Solution. Be on your way to losing your next 10-20 pounds, using your willpower to your advantage, increasing your energy, and feeling more confident in your clothes and your own skin, by focusing on one habit at a time!
I was inspired to write this blog as it applies to diet and exercise by reading the work of the following authors &/or articles. For more resources on the science of willpower and habits, go to:
1. www.charlesduhigg.com The author of an excellent book called, “The Power of Habit”.
3. www.willpowered.co Download his Ebook called, Mastering Exercise. There are also a lot of great articles on the site written on the science of willpower that you may find helpful too, such as: “Ten Habits That Will Give You Incredible Willpower” & “Ten Things People With Extraordinary Willpower Do Differently” plus many more.
4. www.kellymcgonigal.com Author of the book called, “The Willpower Instinct.”